an intro to end on

A couple of things to note: (1) Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment in the mid 1860s; (2) the edition of Crime and Punishment that I read was published in 1991, with an introduction by David McDuff presumably written in the same year.

After finishing Crime and Punishment, I went back to the start of the book, and read the introduction to see if it could elucidate the meanings of the novel, or perhaps reveal things that I had missed. 

Side note: It never made sense to me to read introductions before reading the actual story because, assuming the story is new to you, you wouldn’t know what is being referenced, and it would also spoil the story. It seems more fitting to put the “introduction” at the end, like a “discussion” section. You know, like how research papers and journal articles are set out as Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion, Conclusion. Perhaps a novel’s introduction should just talk about the context of the novel, or events leading to the creation of the novel.

Anyway, I digress.

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crime & punishment

I finally finished reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It feels like I’ve been reading it for a long time, but I think that’s because I’ve only been reading it in short bouts, and not very frequently. It’s a bit mentally “heavy”, for want of a better word. Reading it for a long stretch without a break just seemed to weigh down on my brain.

But now that it’s done, it feels weird to not be reading it anymore. I guess it’s like the weight was lifted, and I’m still pushing but not finding the familiar resistance there.

That’s not to say I didn’t like Crime and Punishment. At least, I like it better than The Idiot, which I don’t think I really understood. This one had me thinking a lot, but I feel like I understood it better. But I did read The Idiot quite a long time ago, so maybe I’m just more mature and wise or something. Having said that, though, I still feel like I need to reread it one day in order to get a better grasp of everything. 

Did I truly understand it, or did I actually miss the point?

And there is something else that compels me to reread it, even though it’s not as beautifully written as certain other classics I’ve read. Well, that could also be the translation/version I read. I got it second-hand, so it’s quite an old copy. There were several parts that sounded very dramatic and exaggerated, like literary convulsions. But sometimes I feel like that was all intentional, because the whole thing is full of feeling and torment and anguish.

Anyway, with classics like this, I always feel like there’s no real need to go into much detail about the story and meaning and implications, etc, etc. So much has already been written about these classics, and there are so many interpretations and analyses in existence.

I only wish to add that I didn’t particularly like the epilogue. Most of it was fine, until the last few pages, which felt like too much of a backflip, and left a strange aftertaste. If/when I ever reread Crime and Punishment, I’ll have to try to remember to avoid the epilogue, or at least stop before I get to the very end.

hope you’ve been well

I feel like this has become a common opener in emails in recent times. Hello, hope you’ve been well… Usually it’s work emails to/from other companies, and usually it’s a supplier that I need to ask about something, and I haven’t corresponded with them in a while. Sometimes the supplier is interstate, in a state that has recently had severe weather or a wave of virus, or some other event that has made the headlines.

It just seems polite to show some concern. My usual contacts also use it when starting a new correspondence with me, so it goes two ways. But I’m pretty sure people didn’t always do this. Or maybe they did, but it didn’t mean as much as it does now. Maybe the pandemic made people more compassionate or something.

For the record, yes, I have been well. I have been very absent from this blog, and I’ve been keeping busy with other things, but I always intended to come back.

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The Cider House Rules

I believe The Cider House Rules is the third John Irving novel I have read, and although the story is quite different to what I remember of The World According to Garp or The Hotel New Hampshire, there is something about it that is still very classically Irving. I think the best word for it is “unapologetic”. He really lays the story out — guts and all — and doesn’t sugarcoat or censor anything.

The other very Irving thing about TCHR and the other novels is that although the events seem rather bizarre and absurd at times, the characters feel so real, and so the events surrounding and involving them also feel real. I think it also has something to do with how fluid his writing is. The story flows effortlessly so that I’m turning the page before I have time to question the plausibility of what is happening. All I want is to keep reading.

[Spoilers ahead — you have been warned]

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post-war peace

It’s been about a month since I finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (by Stieg Larsson), and I still don’t really feel like writing or saying much about it. It wasn’t a bad book — I went in with zero expectations because I’d heard various mixed reviews about it back when it was super popular, so it couldn’t really disappoint — but it wasn’t amazing either.

It had some very strong (and graphic) points about sexual abuse and domestic violence, and it did well to highlight these issues, but it sort of left me wondering whether it actually had any significant impact on reducing the incidence of this kind of abuse. I’m generalising here, but I don’t think perpetrators are going to read this book and think, “This is wrong. I should stop doing this and get help.”

***Spoiler ahead*** [Do not proceed unless you don’t care about spoilers]

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timeless truths

In high school English class, we learnt about the idea of a “classic” novel, and discussed what made something a “classic”. One characteristic that might not have stood out for me back then, but certainly stands out for me now, is the notion of “timelessness” — that a novel becomes a classic because it is timeless in its themes, ideas and moral messages.

Part of me thinks that it was probably a bit pointless for the teachers to discuss timelessness with teenagers. I mean, we weren’t daft, but we were young, and as much as we probably believed we knew everything about the world, there was undoubtedly a lot that we didn’t know the half of. Besides, even back then, there was a quick succession of crazes and fads and fashions — there’s not much appreciation of “timelessness” when one day everyone’s watching this show, and playing this game, and then next month these things are barely a memory.

Even so, I’d like to think that I had some grasp of this idea of “timelessness”. In high school, I began reading a lot of “classics”, particularly Charles Dickens. It was also during high school that I discovered I really like Jane Austen’s writing. To my younger self, these books were classics because they were beautifully written, the stories and characters were exquisitely constructed, and they were simply captivating. Then there is all the usual stuff about love and friendship and family — the things that people throughout history have always valued.

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